In 1997 I returned from a trip to Australia with an invoice for 25 Yoga mats. These arrived two days later in Changi Airport, where I picked them up after paying for the shipping expenses. Hurray, I could start teaching Yoga. Fortunately, purchasing a Yoga mat does not involve this kind of effort anymore. But for the new student, the abundance of mats on offer makes it hard to decide which mat is the most suitable. As a frequent user-of and traveller-with Yoga mats, I would say it all depends on your needs.
A thick mat is useful if it has sufficient density and firmness, so try to avoid mats which are thick and soft. In poses where a lot of the weight is placed on the hands (such as Downward Facing Dog, Plankpose, Birdpose, etc…), the hands will sink into the mat if it is too soft. Beginning students in particular tend to place too much weight on the heel of the hand, which overextends the wrist. This is aggravated by working on a too-soft mat.
Another factor to be considered is the weight of the mat. If you are the lucky owner of a car, a mat which is heavy might not seem like a burden. If your journey to the Yoga studio involves a walk, a busride, and changing MRT twice, then a heavy and bulky mat may cause considerable stress on your body.
The material a mat is made of is another important factor to consider.
Sticky mats are usually made of natural or synthetic rubber. They come in all types of thickness, density, and colours. As mentioned, density of the material is important. Some low-quality mats have a tendency to stretch while working on them. Look for a mat which remains firmly on the floor, because a mat which slips on the floor while working on it, or has corners and edges which roll up, is very distracting (and potentially dangerous).
There are a lot of different variations in the surface of the mat, with some mats feeling more sticky than others. All mats tend to feel slightly more slippery when new, but most mats become less so after using it a few times (beginners often experience their mat to be more slippery than more advanced practitioners).
Another factor to consider is where and how often will you use the mat. If your mat is frequently used, opt for a mat which can be cleaned easily.
Ashtanga mats (the black mats) are in a league of their own, as they are extremely durable, slip resistant, and they remain stable on the floor during practice.
Students who sweat a lot, or have a practice which involves a lot of sweating, might be happier on a cotton mat. These mats are available with rubber underside to prevent them from slipping. If you do not sweat these mats tend to be slippery, but spraying water on them increases their anti-slip factor.
Yoga mats come in all colours and patterns, so you can match them to your mood, your outfit, or the walls of your favourite Yoga studio. Remember, however, that blues and greens tend to be cooling and calming; reds, pinks and oranges are warm colours. The mat is there to support you in your practice, so if you are easily distracted, a plain mat in soothing colours might be the better option.
These again come in many colours and varieties. Some places offer mats and carriers as a package, but I prefer to buy them separately. Personally, I never buy a bag which opens at the top, but I opt for the ones with a large zipper along the length of the carrier, as they are much easier to use.Do you remember the little scooters which were a craze some time back? I found the carriers sold for them make an excellent alternative to Yoga mat carriers.
In Singapore there are mats available from $40 onwards. Of course your budget will determine how much you can spend on a mat. But do not stinge; buy the best mat you can afford. If your budget is restricted, wait to purchase the bag and improvise a carrier.
My favourite mat
My all-time favourite is the black Ashtanga mat. Initially its price and colour were an objection, but since I have tried it, I have never looked back.The high price has definitely been worth it, because it is the most durable mat I have ever worked on. I used to change mats frequently, but I have been using this mat for ages without it showing signs of wear and tear. It is slightly longer than other mats, so both my feet and head can rest on it in supine poses.It’s thickness and density provide protection to knees, elbows and hands, while still providing the stability necessary for standing poses and hand and arm balances.Unfortunately this mat is also very heavy and bulky, and travelling from studio to studio by public transport is somewhat of a burden.I found a purple colored mat with the same properties, but which is lighter and less bulky than the black mat (still heavier than regular mats though), which I find satisfying and easier to travel with.
How to take care of your mat
A few Yoga mats come with an instruction leaflet, but for those who don’t, you can try the following tips.
After use, wipe your mat with a damp cloth. You can also spray it with a mixture of water and a few drops of desinfectant. Wipe with a dry cloth and leave to air-dry.
If the mat is dirty, you can wash it with water and a soft detergent, but avoid using too much soap. After this you will need to rinse, squeeze and rinse, and continue this until all soap residues have disappeared. After the final rinse you can put the mat on a towel and roll them up together, then squeeze the mat once more so that all excess water is squeezed out. Dry the mat preferably outside, but do not place it in the sun. I prefer to hang mine on a clothes horse. It may take some time for the mat to dry, so if you do not have a spare mat, do not wash it on the eve of a workshop with your favourite teacher.